Saturday, November 24, 2007
The Trip, III
The snow was piled up higher than the car doors, higher than our hips...it was...deep.
Even Godmother and I knew what we needed to put on; chains. She had chains, something I didn't.
Snowchains are the devil's invention, horrid, loud clunky things that you attach to your front or rear tires, depending on the drive thingy of your car. We knew that much. That, however, was the extent of our knowledge. Cigarettes in hand, we pretended to read the directions while JL and Sherman sat in the warmth of the house and we huddled in the driveway, looking at the chains, at the tires, at the chains...
Finally, we had it figured out. She carefully rolled backwards over them and I hooked them on. We were ready. She loaded the trunk, I went to the bathroom again, child and dog packed in and we were off!
One thing was missing....an iota of common sense.
We drove west towards Boulder, to hit up the closest grocery store, liquor store and bank. The drifts were piled 10 feet high on the sides of the packed roads. We made good time, the chains clinking merrily on our tires, chatting away, pleased with our smart selves.
Albertson's parking lot was awash with waves of piled snow, we soared over them in the good ship Mustang, laughing hard, me giving a running commentary of our trip, JL chomping away on one of 10 packs of BubbleYum, the dog's nose pressed to his window on his side of the car, Godmother in her usual driving position of seat pushed all the way to the wheel, her mousefur coat (a purchase from a catalog, the coat bore a strong resemblance to the texture of mousefur, and in damp weather had a slightly rodent smell), sipping from her Pepsi can in the holder in the console between us. I had the big Tupperwear of homemade chocolate chip cookies at my feet, a few books, our many packages of cigarettes... we stocked up on goodies and schnapps--yes, we were good to go.
A news report said the roads to Denver were packed with cars... we'd spent a bit more time than we meant to at the store, and when we arrived at the bank, it was closed. No ATM's then, we had around $10 in cash between us, no time to go back to the store and get extra cash... making the decision to drive to the airport, we stopped only long enough for me to call my dad and tell him to call E and let her know we were hustling down to get her sacred daughter, whom she'd entrusted me to care for.
MM was E's pride and joy. She'd never traveled alone, she was cushioned, protected, cherished in ways I'd have sold a kidney for in my childhood. The only time she'd ever been abandoned was when the Great Ghost appeared during the Scarefest that summertime in Monroe, when G and I scattered with the rest, leaving her and D to fend for themselves. She'd been put on a plane and flown off to me, her older cousin, her only female cousin, to enjoy Thanksgiving.
She'd never been on her own before.
We sorta zipped down Hwy 36, to feed into I-25 to go to I-70.. oh, yes, we were happy campers. We smoked and gossiped and listened to the radio. We wondered what the loud clipping and clanking was from the chains, but, we knew they let us drive at 65mph on that snowpacked road, and we were happy!
I guess one of us should have rtfm at some point. I mean, fully read the fucking manual.
The traffic jam started 3 miles from the airport. Three stinking miles. Three. It took us three hours to go three miles. Of course, with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, I should have walked it in, grabbed MM, and hoofed it back to a parked car. But, walk three miles? Where did I think I lived, New York City?? We stayed in the car, slowly starting to panic. JT read his comics, snapped his gum, I stealthily ate the cookies, and Godmother continued to sip on her Pepsi.
Knowing we couldn't afford the time nor the parking garage fees, she pulled up to the arrival gates, and I ran in, faced with 82,473 people. There, in front of me, was MM.
The gods were good.
We dashed back out, opened the trunk, and shoved her broken suitcase into the car, horns honking, people yelling... throwing ourselves into the Mustang and squealing out, the chains a happy tune to our careening car as it moved into the flow of traffic.
It was now 2P.
We drove a bit, found a payphone (remember those?) and called E, telling her all was well, she passed the word on to Dad ... who still expected us by 6P. It's a 4 hour drive... we had decided to not stop in Glenwood Springs...shame, really. We'd looked forward to that. But, we felt that hour or so would be better spent driving to make up for the silly traffic jam at the airport.
We glossed over the fact the entire Front Range had been slammed.
Godmother was the epitome of calm. She drove, refusing my offer to spell her in the task. We moved on the plowed, yet still piled with snow and packed with other cars, I-70. When we could, she moved her precious six month old car up to 60mph, otherwise, we crawled along. MM chatting away, JL talking to her, the dog sleeping, me eating cookies, Godmother sipping that Pepsi.
The roads continued to worsen. Going up towards Loveland Pass was horrific. We moved at a crawl, sliding even with our sturdy chains. I ate more and more, the kids grew silent as she and I continued to glance at each other.
MM hadn't brought any cash, only a check to give to my Dad for funds. We had enough money for gas, and that was it. Godmother and I live on the edge. The snacks were gone, and, like the Donner Party, we started to size each other up as the first meal for the group.
The dog huddled down under the coats to make himself a smaller target.
"I don't think those chains are working properly.", she said, when we slid for the gazillionth time. "I think we should stop and get them checked." as we careened down the west side of the Eisenhower Tunnel, a Ford tobaggon, barely missing other cars that had on chains and were in control.
We found a gas station that was still open at 10.00P.
To this day, when I pass this particular gas station, I let them know I think they are #1 in my book.
The 'attendant' had a look about him that said, "When my parents divorce, they will still be able to call each other sibling." He was playing with the air compression hose as, "Larry", the manager, directed us to the hoist.
"Chuck" (the names are changed because I've managed to block them from my memory) had Godmother pull the car onto the hoist. He never mentioned we should get out of the car. Never. Not once.
I won't even entertain the thought that neither of us, intelligent women in jobs that required us to think and wear suits and attend corporate meetings and where we made decisions that cost huge amounts of money that didn't belong to us ever said, "Gee, should we get out?"
Uuuuuuuuuuuuppppppppppppp we went. It was fun! It was exciting! We started to tip backwards!
"LEAN FORWARDS!!" I said in a calm voice. If you believe I was calm, there is that beach front property in Utah I have for sale.
All of us quietly leaned forwards including the dog. Imagine, if you will, a dark blue Mustang, on a hoist, in a cold garage stall in Dillon, Colorado... inside, two women, two kids and a dog... all leaning forward... beneath it, someone who should have been playing a banjo in the film, Deliverance.
"Well, looky here, here's your problem... you didn't put on the rubber holders for the chains!", he called out.
Godmother slowly opened her electric window, still leaning forward...and, no, I'm not kidding here. "What rubber holders?"
"Ayuck.. M'am, you must be funning me. The ones that keep it all tight against the tires, m'am. I'll fix them for you."
Inside the car, Godmother said, "Pass the cookies."
"Ahh, there are no cookies."
"You made cookies, I smelled them last night. I want one of your fucking cookies."
I brushed the last of the crumbs, and with the solemness of Peter to the soldiers at the crack of dawn, denied their existence. At the same time, I shoved another well chewed piece of JL's BubbleYum into the, what I thought was by now, empty Pepsi can.
Godmother sipped and growled, "And, what the fuck is in my schnapps??"
Yes, we'd been driving with bad chains, and a woman drinking schnapps. No wonder she'd not been touched by the drama that had driven me to eat three dozen chocolate chip cookies. Cookies that now placed me at the top of the 'eat her first' list.
Chuck lowered us down, leered in at Godmother, and didn't charge us... in fact, he quickly waved us onto the highway.... later, we found out why.
"What a nice man!" MM said. MM is one of the happiest people I know. I don't know how we share DNA.
JL started to snooze. We carried on, still driving at whatever top speed we could reach, the roads dry now, chains clicking away, cigarette smoke again carrying words to the back seat that held two children. A bit like the road trips of my youth, only this was a car with laughter and jokes and tales of Godmother growing up on a farm, going to a one room schoolhouse, her way of dealing with the tragedy in her life makes her a keeper in anyone who has the great good fortune to have her in theirs.
11P. Clear skies. Clear roads, at long last. We top Vail pass, and see that valley below us. Once the summer pastures of sheep ranchers, now, over priced homes of the rich and famous sprawl about. We are on the downhill side, the storm is behind us, never having reached this far. Another three hours and we should be there.
I see something go flying by us down the hill, flashing in the full moon just as the car starts to make an odd sound.
"Godmother, you have a flat."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do, because that was the hubcap shooting ahead of us on the road."
The poor, dear car jerks then, hopping over to the side of the road, jerking in her hands. We pull over in the -15F weather, crisp, freezing weather that lulls you into thinking it is much warmer.
We have coats in the car, everything else is in the trunk...
I open the trunk, piled with MM's loose clothing, our cases, her skiis... I open it, and lose my held in temper.
Clothes fly, cases, skiis.... I am yelling into the dark night, "ARRRRRRUUUUUUUUUUUGH!!! FUCK ME DEAD!!!!! BUGGER ME BACKWARDS!!!! JESUS. MARY. JOSEPH AND ALL THE SAINTS IN IRELAND!!!!!" Yes, I covered all my bases.
It got worse...how? The trunk light was broken by a shoved in ski. I take a lighter, looking for the spare, pulling it out. Okay... jack. Jack... jack... there is no jack.
I also couldn't find gloves or scarves after my fit... I have socks on my hands and long underwear wrapped around my neck in the cold.
Rapping on the driver's window. "Godmother? Where is the jack?"
"Oh, I took it out. The skiis wouldn't fit." She has this smile. You can't kill her.... you want to, but, you can't.
I started to flag down a car... it's 11P. I've got socks and long underwear on... who is crazy enough to stop?
A guy who has been smoking some major weed, that's who. He picks me up to take me to the nearest exit.. when I climb in, JL takes down his plate number, in case I don't return. This is a smart child.
Stoner and I return, rented jack in hand, to the Mustang where my posse awaited us to fix the tire.
Now, how I ended up being 'Dad', I'll never know, but, Dad I was, and Dad I continued to be, socks and long underwear in place, albeit on the outside of my clothing.
Stoner placed his car so the headlights shone on the driver's side of the car, allowing us to see the flat, and what had to be done. He allowed his slight...totally high male chromosomes to take the jack and place it under the back bumper in order to raise it to change the flat tire. Rickety--Rickety--Rickety He worked that pump handle hard to lift the car up and get us on our way.
"WAIT!", my voice screeched though the night air. I grabbed his arm stopping the manly process of changing our flat tire.
"Dude," he said, falling into my Dad trap, "what's the problem?"
"Um, the bumper is coming off." I pointed, showing how the heavy duty jack was merrily pulling the bumper up and off the car, leaving the car itself still in place on the ground.
We both surveyed the damage and jointly said, "Fuck."
Moving the 47 lb jack to the side of the car, we carefully placed it and started to jack up the car... it moved up and the side of the car started to cave in.
Yeah, well, at least it moved up.
As I'm standing there, holding the lug nuts for Stoner, the engine starts up.... the exhaust blowing into our faces. "What the fuck?" said Stoner, glaring at the exhaust pipe.
"I'll go check, hang in there." I replied, noticing he really didn't mind the exhaust in the least. I moved towards the driver's window and knocked politely. Godmother lowered it two inches exactly, blowing a plume of cigarette smoke out as she did.
"Yes?" she said, smiling that smile.
"Um, Godmother... did you notice we're back there, near the exhaust pipe?"
"Well, yes. But, JL is cold, you see, and he wanted the car on." This made complete sense to her.
"Tire. Driver's side. Exhaust pipe. Our side." I was speaking slowly, one word at a time.
"Ah huh. Well, I was smoking, and I had to air out the car, and then he got cold."
"Um, I'm out here in a FUCKING PAIR OF SOCKS AND LONG UNDERWEAR WRAPPED ON MY HEAD AND YOUR FUCKING CAR CAME ON IN MY FUCKING FACE WHILE I'M CHANGING YOUR FUCKING TIRE!!!! TURN! OFF!! THE!!! CAR!!!!"
The car shut off, and we finished the job, throwing the tire that has an embedded tire chain in the back side of the tire (thanks, Chuck!)in the trunk, piling in the skis, the luggage, the loose clothing, all of it on top. Stoner left, leaving me to remember we had the chains on one tire. They had to come off.
I struggled to remove the little rubber thing put on by Chuck, then managed to get most of the chain off.
Most of it... not all of the it.
We had to then drive to the exit to return the 47lb jack, and see if they'd remove the chain... which was attached to the axle, and thus whipping across the highway like some Road Warrior weapon, taking out a Volkswagen and two Harley's as they tried to pass us.
The nice man at the gas station undid the wrapped around chain and didn't chide us, letting us go, seeing the pain in our eyes and the anguish in my face, patting us on the back, not charging us for the damage to his jack.
We arrived at my dad's at 3AM, shattered, tired, wanting nothing more than a drink and a warm bed. Dad provided us with both.
The rest of the weekend went swimmingly, my best friend and my father bonded, becoming life long friends, that Dad loved dearly until his death two years ago today. MM had a great time skiing with Godmother, JL found a Marine to tell him about life in my Dad, all of us had a great time that weekend.
The trip home was exciting in a lesser sense.... we left and had to go back... cars were upside down from the inch of black ice on the road. We made green chili and spent another day in Grand Junction to the thrill of JL who basked in the attention of his hero and the anger of our boss who had two of her three marketing people gone. We drove home Monday, slowly, carefully, using our the last of our cash to fill the tank and finally arriving in our beloved Boulder, where we stalked though the aisles of Albertsons, eating food from the cans (we had a thing for kippers) moaning in joy.
We drove the back roads home, chattering away in the darkened interior of the battered Mustang, grateful to be almost in our comfy home, a new Duralog ready to be burned... and Godmother remarked we were lucky to not have had an accident.
"Well," I said, "You know most accidents occur within five miles of your home."
With this, we spun out and into a ditch.
I'm not a good person to have in your car, I guess... and should change my name to Cassandra. Luck was still with us, Luck with a broken leg, perhaps, and a bad case of leprosy, but, luck nonetheless... and a guy with a big 4x4 stopped by and pulled us out.
The wrong way.
The Mustang drove at an odd angle on the last two miles home, battered, bruised, the wheelwheels eaten up by the abusive chains, the entire back panel bent in from the industrial jack, the rear bumper lifted up and away from the frame of the car, missing a custom hubcap. The front end was now totally out of alignment. I'd gained ten pounds from the chocolate chip cookies, and Godmother gained a liking for sweetened schnapps. JL grew to hate car trips, but, not for the same reason I did.
We slid into the garage, adding a final scrape on the passenger side, opening the house door to the sound of the phone ringing. Godmother scrambled to answer it, sure it was Godfather, checking to see if we'd finally arrived home.
It was L, a friend, doing just that, and Godmother settled into a chair, these horrible chairs on pedestals, that were in the kitchen... a kitchen that has since been redone, but back then was wallpapered in silver and bright green and yellow.
Not a place to be when you were hung over, I assure you.
She sat down, lit up, and proceeded to tell L of the trip, getting into the groove, warming up to the tale, settling into the story.... when I sat down, weary of it all....
....and my chair broke, throwing me onto the floor.
It was a tale to remember. The best of times, the worst of times. A story I've told a zillion times...and never embellished. How can you possibly embellish this story?
This was for Godmother, whom I'll see in a week... her husband, Godfather... two friends who have always been there, for the last (mumble a number of years here) and, for my Dad... who died two years ago today.
Miss you Daddy. Every day.
Posted by quin browne at 9:24 AM